Art

Art and Grief, a Legacy of Loss

As human beings, we share certain experiences. If you’ve ever owned a pet, you’ve experienced the deep and profound heartbreak that comes with losing that life. They become part of your daily rituals, from feeding them in the morning to cuddling up at night. They rely on you to tend to their needs, and they love you unconditionally for it. No matter what you go through, who hurts you or how you self-destruct, pets are there for you. This month, I’ve lost not one, but two animal companions, including my best childhood friend, Paco. Since I was 12 years old, Paco has been with me for every trial and tribulation that comes with growing up. He was there for sleepovers with friends and giggly adolescent parties, and he was there when I cried over teenage spats and family feuds. He comforted me through intense medical treatments and saw me through countless heartaches. For 16 years, he left his mark on every article of clothing I owned and every piece of furniture in my family’s home. I can’t begin to describe the emotions that overwhelmed me Saturday morning, plucking his hair off a sweater that hadn’t seen daylight since last winter, knowing I wouldn’t be doing it again.

Paco

This January has been full of grief, from mourning a lifelong hero, navigating the illness and death of one pet, to coping with the sudden and unexpected loss of another. I’m not proud to admit that it’s effected my productivity–sleepless nights and mornings spent bargaining one’s way out of bed doesn’t lend itself well to getting things done. But that can only go on for so long. Grief needs to be experienced, but then it needs to be worked through and dispersed.

As an artist, I’ve always processed my emotions through projects–paintings, drawings, essays. John Lydon has said that anger was his primary driving source, Yayoi Kusama painted to stave off mental illness. It’s a common experience amongst artists: no matter your medium, you work through your feelings by producing work. So many amazing works of art have been made as a response to grief–Francis Bacon painted several tributes to his lover George Dyer after his 1971 suicide, and Salvador Dali and Max Ernst (among so many other artists) worked through the grief of wartime by creating truly profound pieces. Barthes wrote his classic essay, Camera Lucida, in the aftermath of his mother’s death, and it contains some mindblowing, heartwrenching thoughts on mortality and its inherent role in art. On some level, I think death is a driving motivation behind all artistic pursuits: the artist creates work to fight against his or her own mortality, unsatisfied with a life that leaves nothing living in its wake.

Julia, marked, in 19-something

 

 

In the days since these personal tragedies, I’ve dived headfirst into my work. I’ve sought catharsis in ink and paper, writing new words, working in new media. For some, the imagery of my recent experiments will be perfectly obvious. They’re not a “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans,” but it’s the beginning of something, some way to understand the role of these lost lives through the kaleidoscopic lens of my own artistic journey. If we are the sum of our collective experience, then the individuals and ideas that impress themselves upon you are also part of that equation. And lately, my work as been entirely about exploring that link been identity and influence. Last year, that mostly meant pouring through photo albums, briefly peering into the lives of anonymous relatives, tied to me only through blood and universal experiences: labour, laughter, love…

Love, circa 19-Something

 

The pain of loss never really leaves us entirely–ten, twenty, forty years from now, we’ll still feel pangs of grief recalling beloved pets, departed family, friends that left too soon. But rather than losing time, sinking in the quicksand of sorrow, use the memories as fuel for the creative fire. The death of someone close is absolute agony, but there is no greater heartbreak than a life gone unlived. Feel your sadness, grieve your losses, but process the pain into something positive. You can’t control when your time is up, but you can construct the legacy you leave. Let’s make this one count…

Self Portrait, Two Decades Removed

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